The Butler ExchangeAnna and Laura Tirocchi arrived in Providence in 1907 and one or both may have worked for a time for a popular dressmaker on the city’s fashionable East Side. The Providence City Directory indicates that by 1911, they had opened a business in the Butler Exchange on Westminster Street in the heart of downtown Providence.

Butler Exchange was in the center of Providence’s commercial, financial, and legal district. The sisters shared the building with lawyers, doctors, dentists, and other professionals. Wholesalers, insurance agents, music teachers, the Republican State Committee, the Rhode Island Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Rhode Island Sunday School Association were also among the tenants of that building. In 1913, a firm of patent attorneys and the Crown Gold Mining & Milling Company of Nova Scotia flanked the Tirocchi Gown Suite on the fourth floor. The fifth and sixth floors were given over largely to music teachers.

As self-designated "gown makers," Anna and Laura sought to distinguish themselves from others who were simply identified TheArcade Buildingas dressmakers. Directly across the street, in the Arcade Building, twenty-five milliners and five dressmakers had shops. Other dressmakers and tailors for ladies were scattered throughout the center of the city. The prime location of the Tirocchi shop and the fact that they employed as many as twelve girls and women attested to their early prominence in the trade.

The Butler Exchange must have been a convenient downtown location for the Tirocchis’ clientele. With so many music teachers in the building, the affluent women of Providence may have come to the building often with their children in tow. The aforementioned quarters of the Republican State Committee–in which a high number of Tirocchi clients were involved, Temperance Union, and Sunday School Association would likely have drawn some of them, too. General business and shopping also drew them downtown.

Anna would have been in her mid-thirties, with twenty years of experience in her trade, when she opened the downtown shop. Laura was thirteen years younger than Anna, but had also been trained in Italy. The sisters were well qualified to operate a high-end custom dressmaking shop, and their Roman pedigree lent them a certain European chic that their American competitors couldn’t claim.

About 50% of the sisters’ business involved the traditional work of a dressmaker–altering, making over, repairing, cleaning, and pressing garments for their clients. The remaining 50% came from making gowns using fabric and ideas provided by the client or inspired by French fashion. Anna also designed original gowns for her clients and found this custom work the most satisfying. In these early years, the Tirocchis built a loyal following among Providence women who could afford their services.

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  The Family
  The Business
      Butler Exchange
      Move to 514 Broadway
      The Middle Years
      Last Days
  The Clients
  The Workers